A twist of reality

Robert Dieckhoff paints some of the most distinct and popular images of the Yampa Valley

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— Ask Robert Dieckhoff to explain his paintings, and you'll get a variety of answers. He might go into music, comparing the joining of shapes and color in his pieces to different instruments playing notes and rhythms in the same time signature.

He could talk of math and science. He'll take out a sketchbook that shows grids covered by pencil sketches of his painting and math notations beside the work. Everything is perfectly proportional.

Dieckhoff might even mention something about cartoon backdrops, which many people compare his soft curved and pastel paintings to.

"I could very easily be an abstract artist," he said at his kitchen table this week.

But introducing reality to his paintings makes it more interesting, he said.

Styles of surrealism, regionalism and social realism and influences from Japanese print art Ukiyo-e could be discussed.

Even a comparison to American painter Thomas Hart Benton also might come up.

"I was already doing what I was doing when I saw my first Benton," Dieckhoff said, but he admits the styles are similar.

What Dieckhoff is doing in Steamboat Springs is painting some of the most distinct and popular images of the valley. Distinct, because once introduced to his paintings, they can't be forgotten. Popular, because nearly everything he paints has sold to locals and visitors alike.

He paints with an unmistakable style, which he achieves with a concept called "peripheral compression."

As Dieckhoff explained, something always is lost when reproducing a landscape. Whether with photography or fine painting, it's nearly impossible to capture a landscape's true image at least representing the human eye's capacity for peripheral vision.

The closest way in art, Dieckhoff said, could be to create a huge painting that surrounds the viewer on all sides.

Dieckhoff went from there when coming up with peripheral compression. He took the idea of a painting that wraps around someone and compressed it to an 8-by-10 or an 11-by-14 painting peripheral compression.

"Something's still got to go," Dieckhoff said of his paintings. "So the reality goes."

For example, straight lines turn into sharp curves, as the painting literally bends to create a reverse fisheye perspective of the land as if something large was bent, stuffed and manipulated into a small space.

The distinct coloring, rounding of edges and the surreal-like image creates a cartoon-like fantasyland, which is part of the transformation.

"It's a byproduct of what I'm trying to express," he said.

The California native painter and longtime surfer first tinkered with the ideas of wrapping and compression after coming home to San Diego after 2 1/2 years in Vietnam. But he didn't really start experimenting with it until he moved to the Yampa Valley in the early '90s.

Like most artist in the valley, the scenic landscapes influenced Dieckhoff to delve into his paintings.

The result has been some of the most recognizable features in the valley being recreated in Dieckhoff's compressed world.

He's also fairly prolific with his paintings.

In a series dedicated to Emerald Mountain, Dieckhoff recreated the mountain 22 times. Each painting is from a different angle, with different light and in different seasons.

That series started after Dieckhoff painted his first Emerald Mountain, looking at it from his home's deck. He gave the painting to Gloria Gossard after she donated land on Emerald Mountain to the city.

As local groups formed to protect more of the mountain and the land surrounding it, Dieckhoff thought it was appropriate to paint a series.

"It gave me a venue for defining that piece of land," he said. "In a way that a lot of landscapes don't."

If Dieckhoff is trying to communicate anything in his paintings, he said it's respecting the beauty of the land.

Often his depictions of local views are without any sign of human existence, trying to show the landscape as it was before development.

He has painted the Devil's Causeway near Yampa, Sleeping Giant, Hahn's Peak, Trapper's Lake and is in the middle of a series of Mount Werner paintings.

Most recently Dieckhoff did a seven-painting series of the Depot for the Steamboat Springs Arts Council's 30th anniversary art show.

In fact, most common landscapes in the Yampa Valley have been represented in Dieckhoff's style.

"Northwest Colorado is so full of interesting places, it's a great place for artists," he said.

He shows at Mad Creek and Wild Horse galleries in town, and Ambiente and the Buzz coffee shop sell his prints.

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